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When Churches Cooperate, Our Neighbors in Need Win

Warming our hands on Americanos, we were sitting downstairs in a Costa Coffee shop on a cold Tuesday morning – a retired Catholic layman, a Pentecostal woman, an Anglican priest and me.
We’d met to pray for the night shelter and having done that we were chatting.

Ann said something along the lines of Bromley in the United Kingdom being unlike anywhere she’d lived in because the churches were so up for working together. We all raised our eyebrows.

Others asked why and we fell into a conversation about cooperation and being able to put aside the issues that divide us and focus on what we can do together.

Following Ann’s comment in Costa, I fell to thinking about what it is that leads to some places being better than others in this matter of Christians working together.

I’m not sure I’ve arrived at any great insights, but I think it might be worth asking what God is saying to us about how we see the future shape of our mission.

Recently, at a joint worship service at the start of the week of prayer for Christian unity, we highlighted several ministries that were started by individuals who wanted to see the local churches mobilized in response to specific needs.

Each of these ministries works because Christians from across the churches come together to achieve specific goals in our community.

What is remarkable about these projects is that Christians from a whole range of traditions and denominations are able to come together and focus on the task at hand without feeling the need to agree to a theological agenda beforehand.

In many ways that agenda has already been given to us clearly in Scripture. Titus 3:14, for example, says, “Let people learn to devote themselves to good works in order to meet urgent needs, so that they may not be unproductive.”

Paul already outlined in Titus 2:11-16 that the goal of our being brought to faith in Christ is that we become a people who are zealous for good works.

Therefore, doing demonstrates that our faith has a distinctive contribution to make to our neighborhood.

What many of us have found as we have worked together with people from other churches is that what we have in common is so much more important than what might divide us.

I don’t want to downplay doctrinal difference and emphasis. I am a Baptist, after all, by conviction, not by accident. I have chosen this form of churchmanship after prayer and study and in response to what I know to be the leading of God.

But I can work with Christians who do not share my convictions because we recognize that Jesus calls us to action on behalf of others.

For too long, Christians have lived in silos, doing their own thing in their own way, and the losers have been our neighbors in need whose needs have gone unmet.

As Paul reminds us in Titus, those needs are urgent, whereas dotting doctrinal “I’s” and crossing theological “T’s” aren’t.

What has been brilliant about the several area churches working together is that we have created opportunities for urgent needs to be met in ways that have enabled countless Christians from these churches to lead productive, fruitful and fulfilling lives.

So, I wonder what this says about the decisions we need to be making this year about the future direction of our churches.

One obvious thing is that we need to redouble our efforts to support those projects that are already up and running, and are showing God’s love to our neighbors in practical and tangible ways. But can we go further?

Are there ministries that would be better done across churches rather than within individual communities? Can we offer programs for our young people, our senior citizens and others that span more than one church?

This would be a way of pooling resources at a time when they are tight for every church. It could also be a way of responding more creatively and imaginatively to the needs of these groups both within and beyond our churches.

It seems that there is an open door for effective and cooperative mission in our town. The same is likely true in your town.

Let’s all pray about how we can most usefully walk through that door and make our contribution to seeing God’s love shared with our neighbors and his Kingdom take ever more intriguing shape in our midst.

Simon Jones is the pastor of Bromley Baptist Church in Bromley, a suburb of London, in the United Kingdom. This column first appeared on his blog, A Sideways Glance, and is used with permission.